Why Stretching is Important
Cardio and strength are often presented as the twin pillars of fitness. And while important, every well-rounded exercise regime has another essential element. Flexibility is the quality of bending easily without breaking, and when it comes to your body, this is absolutely essential. Regular stretching is the best way to keep your muscles flexible and strong, both before exercise and during dedicated stretching routines.
Whether you want to start doing yoga or simply touch your toes, stretching is a great way to enhance your mobility and improve your quality of life. While aerobic fitness and muscle building are undeniably important, they are not enough in isolation. Stretching is relaxing, fun, and incredibly beneficial when you keep it up. According to David Nolan from Massachusetts General Hospital, "A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily."
Stretching helps to keep your muscles strong and healthy, and it promotes flexibility so you can maintain motion in your joints. Without regular stretching, your muscles start to shorten and become tight. While you don't necessarily need to do the splits or even touch your toes, your muscles need to function properly when they're called upon. If your muscles are weak and unable to extend, you put yourself at risk of joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
In times past, when most people had to hunt, gather, or farm in order to eat, stretching happened naturally as part of everyday physical movement. Those days are long gone, however, with most people living a rather sedentary lifestyle with too much sitting and not enough movement throughout the day. This results in tight hamstrings and other muscles, and it makes injuries more likely when you perform strenuous cardio and strength-based activities.
If you want to get more flexible, it's important to start slowly and be consistent. Stretching once or twice won't give you perfect flexibility, but it has a cumulative effect over many weeks and months. According to David Nolan, it's important to warm up before you stretch rather than stretching to warm-up: "When everything is cold, the fibers aren't prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you'll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change."
When you perform regular stretching, you are less likely to get injured, and more likely to enjoy other fitness activities like running, cycling, and weights. More than that, however, stretching is a great activity in its own right. It helps you to move without pain, gives you confidence to try new things, and allows you to enjoy the world around you. If you want to enjoy an active lifestyle for as long as possible, stretching is the perfect way to promote mobility, functionality, and flexibility of body and mind.